We as South Africans pride ourselves in some of our best players making their names or blossoming in the biggest league in the world.
Some of the biggest stars from the continent have featured in the English Premier League. They have managed to turn themselves into cult heroes through stellar performances for their respective clubs. This has been achieved either by making an unforgettable impact in a single season, or through loyalty and leadership.
Below is a compiled list of some of the best African players to have graced one of football’s biggest stages.
1. Austin “Jay Jay” Okocha (Bolton Wanderers)
“Jay Jay – so good, they named him twice”, so rang the chant at the Reebok Stadium.
Playing for a club that spent their time in the Premier League looking over their shoulders as relegation was always a looming threat, Okocha was carving a cult status among Bolton fans, after moving from Paris St Germain on a free.
2. Yakubu (Portsmouth, Middlesbrough, Everton, Blackburn)
In his heyday, this journeyman was a prominent feature in the top 10 leading scorers list despite the fact he may have turned out for some of the Premier League’s more unfashionable outfits.
In the 2003/2004 campaign, the Nigerian International had the most successful season. Yakubu netted 16 league goals for Portsmouth. Setting off a run, he finished among the ten leading scorers in the league for five consecutive seasons.
3. Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City)
Expected rumours were doing the rounds as the Premier League draws to a close. Gossip was linking the Algerian with a move away from Leicester. Fueling the rumours was the fact that Mahrez was instrumental in English football’s biggest heist, where his side stunned all in walking away with the 2015/2016 title.
With the return of Mahrez to the King Power Stadium in 2011, the star is one of the players one can bank on to make huge contribution.
4. Emmanuel Adebayor (Arsenal, Man City, Tottenham, Crystal Palace)
Making his name at Arsenal with an immediate impact, scoring on his debut against Birmingham City in 2006. There was a time that Adebayor was one of the most feared strikers in the Premier League. In the latter stages, his career started to fade out.
At the Gunners, in his second season, Adebayor announced himself, becoming the first player, in the Premier League, to score a hat-trick both home and away. This earned himself a spot in the PFA Team of the Year and was named BBC’s African Player of the Year.
His stint at North London was unceremonious ended and saw him move to Man City. Playing against Arensal, after netting a goal against them, Adebayor sprinted towards Arsenal fans to rub it in their faces. This action from Adebayor made headlines.
He was offloaded to neighbours, Cystal Palace, after playing for Tottenham where he was plagued by injury.
5. Michael Essien (Chelsea)
Making over 200 appearances in all competitions, the Ghanaian spent close to a decade at Chelsea.
Becoming one of the giants of English football, this aggressive midfielder with a powerful shot, was one of the central figures in the London clubs.
Essien currently plies his trade in Indonesia for the unheard of, Persib Bandung. Being plagued by injury in the final stages of his career, he will forever be one of the best African players to have graced the Premier League.
6. Lucas Radebe (Leeds United)
Leeds were always present in the top five of the Premier League before imploding and sunk to the Championship. One of their more prominent players, was South Africa’s national captain, Lucas Radebe.
Making club captain under George Graham, Radebe enjoyed cult status among its fan base. Some of the fans were kind enough to share their fondest memories of the defender.
Turning down advances from some of Europe’s bigger clubs, including Manchester United and AC Milan, proved his endearment to Leeds supporters. Staying with the club through its financial collapse and eventual relegation, Radebe retired in 2005.
7. Mo Salah (Liverpool)
Mo Salah had a brief and unsuccessful period at Chelsea. The outlook for the Egyptian looked bleak, and made a move to the far less fashionable Italian Serie A, plying his profession for Fiorentina on loan. Later AS Roma, until he returned to the Premier League, playing in Liverpool colours.
Breaking record after record, before the season is completed, Salah is a likely Ballon D’Or candidate.
With some of Europe’s superpowers undoubtable wanting to draw him away from the Reds, it is uncertain how many season he will stay at Anfield. It would be a travesty to leave him out of the list, after the impact he has had in one season in the Premier League.
8. Didier Drogba (Chelsea)
Drogba was brought in by Jose Mourinho in 2004 to boost Chelsea’s attack. With reasonable performance in the first two seasons, Drogba shone in the third season netting 33 times.
His achievements coincided with both his club and country striving. Him being the central figure of the success of the Ivory Coast becoming powerhouses in Europe and Africa respectively.
Becoming a real concern for the Blues’ biggest rivals, Drogba found the net over 100 times during his time at Stamford Bridge.
9. Yaya Toure (Man City)
At the prime of his career, Toure was a massive presence in Man City’s midfield. At this stage, he is hardly used as a squad player.
Toure was brought in from Barcelona when new money was injected into the blue side of Manchester. The Ivorian was one of earlier marquee signings, which the club needed to compete with their highly decorated neighbours. Toure grew in leaps and bounds under Roberto Mancini.
The only goal scored in the 2010/2011 FA Cup final against Stoke City, was netted by Toure. This ended City’s 35 year wait for silverware. This was his first season in the club.
He earned himself the African Footballer of the Year accolade after the Sky Blues famously snatched the Premier League title in the very last minute.
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